Foote helps Eastwood win kicking duel in Chatswood mud
Photos: SPA Images
The fixtures computer had thrown up a beauty last Sunday, with a clash between two sides that had enough potential heat to keep everyone warm as winter arrives, as Gordon hosted Eastwood.
The Highlanders, one of the most potent attacking sides in the competition, were looking to forget the previous weeks loss to pacesetters Manly. Meanwhile the Woodies, one of the quiet achievers of the 2009 competition, were looking to continue their recent surge up the table and showcase their own array of attacking weapons.
Trouble is, nobody told the weather gods. And with the previous day’s torrential rain still hanging in the air, and the temperature decidedly lower at a boggy and sodden Chatswood Oval, the desire to play with ball in hand was replaced by a pragmatic approach from both teams in search of victory.
The game started with a bang as both sides exchanged similar tries within five minutes of the opening whistle. Gordon struck first when Dave Alo regathered a misfiring attempted clearance to find the line. Dave Harvey, now looking like a permanent fixture in the no.10 jersey after a brief dalliance at fullback, couldn’t add the extras. But it was an encouraging sign for the home side.
However, before they’d even had time to revel in Eastwood’s misfortune, they promptly gifted their own failed kick, returning Brumby lock Ben Hand grabbing the chance to mirror Alo’s efforts and tie up the scoreboard. James Foote, the young Kiwi kicking sensation with the very apt surname, used his left on this occasion to put the Woodies ahead.
Within 10 minutes, Waratahs recruit Ben Batger – in only his third game back from a lengthy shoulder injury – had crossed for another five-pointer to leave heads shaking in the Trumper Stand. And Foote struck again to take the score out to 12-5 in favour of the visitor’s.
A 15 minute period of kicking tennis then ensued, with both teams trying to avoid the rapidly deteriorating middle third of the field. Eastwood were putting up bombs at every opportunity to test the Highlanders efficiency under the high ball. But for Gordon, the normally reliable Harvey wasn’t getting as much success with his boot, and the subsequent kick-chase not of the required urgency or discipline to cause sufficient anxiety in the Woodies backline.
With the locals increasingly frustrated at their side’s attempts to break the gain line, Eastwood extended their advantage. A grubber to the corner following a nice run from Batger was well fielded by scrumhalf Vinnie Byrne, but Harvey’s clearing kick under pressure gave the Woodies a decent attacking lineout position. Four or five phases later, and with the visitors having met an impasse on the 22 metre line, the ball was set-up for Foote to casually stroke over a field goal and keep the scoreboard ticking over.
It was a smart option given the conditions and increased the mental pressure on Gordon, who now had to play catch-up footy. And the decision to settle for 3pts was met with roaring approval from Woodies’ substitute Matt Dunning, as he paced the muddy touchline eager for a return to action.
With only a couple of minutes left before half-time, the Highlanders finally manoeuvred themselves into an attacking position. But when they earned a penalty and skipper Ed Gower decided that 3pts on the board could provide a handy psychological boost to his side going into the break, sharp-shooter Harvey couldn’t oblige, leaving those clad in green, yellow and black to trudge to the sheds seeking salvation, and presumably some direction.
Stags coach Lachie Fear had obviously provided something at oranges, as his charges came out firing for the second stanza and looking to strike back early. Harvey adopted his usual modus operandi and kicked to the corners hoping to pin Eastwood back, gaining his side copious amounts of territory and possession for the next 10 minutes. But there was no reward on the scoreboard, the Woodies counter-rucking going up a notch in their eagerness to protect their well-earned lead.
The game looked almost over as a contest when Gordon – pushing passes in the midfield and being forced out of their usual patterns – gifted their opponents another try. Yet another clearing kick was intercepted by Foote, who ran 30 metres, exchanged passes with Chris Donnelly, and crossed next to the uprights. The impressive flyhalf’s boon afternoon continued when he duly converted his own good work, and the score had blown out to 24-5.
The Highlanders were now trying everything to get a foothold in the contest, but they just couldn’t build enough phases to maintain pressure. The closest they came was a jinking run from Terry Preston, who skipped past a couple of tackles only to be felled short of the line. And when the ensuing scrum was emphatically wheeled by Eastwood – now bolstered by the addition of Wallaby Dunning – they were starting to dominate in every facet of the game.
Things got worse for the home side as the Woodies’ next visit to the 22 drew another penalty, dispatched by Foote. And the frustration became evident as tempers started to boil over, and players berated each other for the failure of their game plan.
However, with the damage done Eastwood put up the shutters and entered a period of containment, always a dangerous thing to do against the Highlanders. And after absorbing a rare and sustained period of attack on their goal line, their excellent defence finally caved in as a succession of charges saw hooker Nath Nicol barge over for the home side to reduce the deficit to 27-10.
The last five minutes was a story of a suddenly recharged Gordon battering the visitors line, while Eastwood showed a phenomenal appetite for tackling, and proved that they could be just as adept in their defensive duties as they’ve shown in attack in recent weeks.
Gordon should have had another when they went for the big pushover off a five-metre scrum. But after executing admirably with an almighty shove scattering Woodies forwards like skittles, nobody remembered to take the ball with them, and it was snaffled up and cleared from danger.
Further respectability was added to the scoreline when Matt McDougall skipped two tackles and crossed after the bell, and Harvey found his range to leave them 10pts adrift. But it was merely a case of papering over the cracks for Gordon, who had been out-thought, out-fought, and for the most part easily contained by a very impressive Eastwood performance in difficult conditions.
Another win for the boys from TG Millner now puts them second on the ladder, and after an inauspicious start, coach Brian Melrose has really got his side on a roll, and they improve with every viewing. The gradual integration of Matt Dunning will add some real bite into that front row, and in James Foote they’ve found a player capable of controlling a game, and with the added bonus of a very reliable boot. His 17 point haul containing the ‘full house’ of a try, penalty and field goal, proved pivotal.
As for Gordon, well, the only way is up. After their routing of Sydney Uni here two weeks ago, they looked like they were going to kick on and mount the serious title challenge many had predicted in pre-season. But a try-less defeat at Manly Oval last week, followed by this less than impressive showing, has to pose serious questions about their ability to stay in the frame over 22 rounds.
However, this is still only Round 10, and they have more than enough quality in the side to turn it around pretty quickly. Pity their next opponent’s Penrith in a fortnight, because somebody’s going to pay for this one.
EASTWOOD 27 (Ben Hand, Ben Batger, James Foote tries; James Foote 3 cons, pen, dg) defeated GORDON 17 (Nath Nicol, Dave Alo, Matt McDougall tries; Dave Harvey con) at Chatswood Oval HT 17-5
Eastwood head coach Brian Melrose:
“You wouldn’t call it one for the purists, but sometimes you’ve gotta play that way to get out of it. It was a tough, tight game, and we were fortunate enough to get ahead and stick there.
“We’ve still got a lot of young players but they’ve developed really well, and that’s a credit to them. Naturally, they’ve been helped in the last couple of weeks when you get a couple of experienced players and top class players back, and that doesn’t harm you either does it?
“We’re growing as a team and we’re starting to get some aspects in our game that show some promise, but I think we’re a long way from where we need to be. The thing that annoyed me the most today was the last try. I said to the boys I’ll get over it in a week but really we need to get a harder edge to our game.”
Gordon captain Ed Gower:
“Both teams were kicking to force mistakes from the other team, and at the end of the day we made mistakes that cost us more at crucial times, so that was the real big thing.
“We’ve had some positions moved around in the backline, and maybe the guys just haven’t gelled as well as they could have. But in the last couple of weeks we’ve come up against a few tough teams so that’s probably contributed as well.
“We’ve definitely got the boys to win this comp, it’s just whether we can put it together. There’s a lot of teams in the same situation, and anything can happen on the day.”
Eastwood prop Matt Dunning:
“It was a great win because that puts us second, and we’ve really turned the season around in the last four weeks with four wins. I thought Gordon might have run it a bit more because they were behind, but it just became a kicking duel because of the conditions.
“The idea behind these two weeks was for me to play two games of 30-40 minutes and just get them under my belt. We’ve got the bye next week and after that I’ll start to play 60-plus minutes. I’ve lost a bit of weight – about seven kilos. I just thought that if I was going to come back five and a half months after an achilles, the lighter I am, the quicker I’m going to come back.
“If I am a little bit light for scrummaging I can put that back on. You have to lose a little bit of strength if you lose seven kilos, but if I could play at this weight it’d be great. It’s definitely better for walking the golf course!”
Gordon: 1. Tobius Gukibau; 2. Nath Nicol; 3. Ofa Fainga’anuku; 4. Ed Gower (c); 5. Kingsley Seale; 6. Paulie Tuala; 7. Craig Thomas; 8. Viliame Ratu; 9. Vinnie Byrne; 10. Dave Harvey; 11. Terry Preston; 12. Dave Alo; 13. Matt McDougall; 14. Lachie Mitchell; 15. Mark Preston
Eastwood: 1. Simon Norris; 2. Chris Hill; 3. Barry Fa’amuasili; 4. Josh Dunning; 5. Phil Mathers; 6. Gareth Palamo; 7. Hugh Perrett (c); 8. Locky McCaffrey; 9. Chris O’Young; 10. James Foote; 11. Mark Frost; 12. Chris Donnelly; 13. Tim Bennetts; 14. John Grant; 15. Ben Batger
First published by clubrugby.com.au on June 2nd, 2009